imageI invite my artist friends to apply these thoughts on poetry to fine art:

Now, there are as many definitions of poetry as there are writers and critics who wish to establish their turf. Some definitions are particular and restrictive, while others are deliberately general so as to include as many kinds of poetry as possible.

Many people believe that a poem must rhyme—absolutely. Many also feel that it must establish a rhythmic pattern—called “meter.” Others will settle for some form of counting from line to line—usually of syllables. These and others argue that poetry must appear in lines, never in paragraphs. To some, the defining characteristic of poetry is compressed language. To others, it is imagery or figures of speech. To still others, poetry depends on a special quality of vocabulary or syntax. There are some to whom no poem is poetic without an elevated tone of voice. To others, good poems must speak partly by implication: they argue that such indirection creates the alert reading we associate with poetry. Some say that poetry depends on what is left out, and that the “poetry” occurs in the reader as much as in the writer. However they define poetry, readers agree that good poems cannot be easily or quickly summed up in prose. They agree that how a thing is said affects what is said.

But the definitions continue to come and go. Some say that poetry has an intimate quality: its tone of voice is personal. Others insist, “I know it when I see it.” Finally, there is a kind of “behavioral” definition: if the publisher says it’s poetry, it’s poetry.

Among such a crowd of definitions, “heightened prose” may seem banal. But it touches the heart of the verbal condition, in which the language of poetry and the language of prose overlap. The border between prose and poetry remains invisible, and moreover it is constantly shifting according to the latest poetic experiments. It has proven impossible to fix the boundary for very long. Artists being artists, rules about art are made to be broken. In that sense, art is the truest kind of freedom.

Bell, Marvin. “Henry Reed’s ‘Naming of Parts.'” In Touchstones: American Poets On a Favorite Poem, edited by Robert Pack and Jay Parini. Hanover, NH: New Hampshire University Press of New England, 1996. 20-25.